SOWETO, South Africa — The mood was more festive than funereal. Outside Nelson Mandela’s former home in Soweto on Friday, crowds sang, chanted, and danced. People carried posters of his famous quotations. Children ran through the streets, holding up pictures of the former president’s face torn from the morning’s newspapers.
“We love you, Papa Mandela,” they cried.
Eunice Ngakane, 40, from North West province, said she and her friends were going to spend the whole night on Vilakazi Street, remembering the national hero who had died the night before. Then they would “freshen up” in the morning and come right back again.
“When Africa cries, Africa sings,” said Japie Molatedi, 55, who described himself as a “typical Sowetan.”
Samantha Nkabinde, 28, a financial analyst in Johannesburg, said it was only fitting for the mourning to take place in such a public fashion. “He never sat behind closed doors or walls,” she said. “He went out among the people, touched so many people.”
The crowd sang, “Mandela, you’re my president.”
In the government’s first announcement of a schedule for ceremonies that are likely to draw vast numbers of world dignitaries and less exalted mourners, President Jacob Zuma said Friday that the former president’s body would lie in state from Dec. 11 to 13 after a memorial at a huge World Cup soccer stadium in Soweto on Dec. 10. He will be buried in his childhood village, Qunu, in the Eastern Cape region, on Dec. 15 after a state funeral, Zuma said.
The White House said in a statement that President Obama and Michelle Obama, would visit South Africa next week “to participate in memorial events.” The wording left unclear whether the state funeral was included.
The state funeral will fall on the eve of Dec. 16, one of the most important public holidays in the South African political calendar with heavy historical resonance for blacks and whites. Officially known since 1994 as the Day of Reconciliation, it also marks the founding in 1961 of the Umkhonto we Sizwe, or Spear of the Nation, guerrilla army that opposed white rule, and a much earlier victory by Afrikaner forces over a Zulu army in 1838 known as the Battle of Blood River.
At a service in Cape Town, retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, himself a towering figure in the struggle against apartheid that defined much of Mandela’s life, expressed the hopes and fears of many of his compatriots when he told congregants at St. George’s Anglican Cathedral early Friday: “Let us give him the gift of a South Africa united, one.”
As flags flew at half staff across South Africa, a sense of loss, blended with memories of inspiration, spread from Obama in Washington to members of the British royal family and on to those who saw Mandela as an exemplar of a broader struggle.
“A giant among men has passed away,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India said. “This is as much India’s loss as South Africa’s.”
As public figures used superlatives to describe Mandela, Prime Minister David Cameron declared in London: “A great light has gone out in the world.” Pope Francis praised “the steadfast commitment shown by Nelson Mandela in promoting the human dignity of all the nation’s citizens and in forging a new South Africa.” President Vladimir Putin of Russia said Mandela was “committed to the end of his days to the ideals of humanism and justice.”
The tone of the tributes reflected seemingly universal sentiments crossing racial, national, religious, and political lines. In the United States, Republicans and Democrats alike embraced his legacy. In China, the government hailed him as a liberator from imperialism, even as dissidents held him as a symbol of resistance against repression.
In Syria, President Bashar Assad, accused by the political opposition of heinous crimes in a nearly three-year-old civil war, said Mandela was “an inspiration in the values of love and human brotherhood.”
In South Africa, people of all races gathered at Mandela’s home, laying wreaths, singing freedom songs, whispering prayers, and performing the toyi-toyi dance in his honor.
“It is one of those days when everyone is united again,” said Reginald Hoskins.